Do White Families Need "Special Training" Before Adopting Black Children?

In 1994, a federal law was passed to help increase the number of black children being adopted — by making it easier for them to be placed with white parents. But a new report, released today found that despite the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), black children still disproportionately end up in temporary foster homes. Child welfare groups are arguing that the "colorblind" approach in the 1994 law has not helped black children in foster care. "Color consciousness - not 'color blindness' - should help to shape policy development," the report states. The problem is that the law prevents race from being taken into consideration during adoption decisions. For instance: White parents who would like to adopt a black child cannot be required to undergo race-oriented training because it would be "special" treatment, different from training that all prospective adoptive parents receive.

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, which commissioned the study, has issues with this thinking. "If you're white and you're adopting a black kid, maybe you could use a little coaching on that issue as you help your kid grow up," he argues. "The law says you can't be trained to do that. Are we giving parents the optimal tools to succeed in bringing up their families?" In a word: No. But there are challenges to so-called "transracial" adoption. Before the MEPA law was passed, black children ended up staying in "temporary" foster care an average of nine months longer that white children. Social workers often attempted "race-matching," teaming white children with white families and black with black. But what is more important, the report stresses, is that white parents are prepared for life with a black child. A 2006 study found that when dark-complexioned children were adopted into white homes, "For many children… a white skin color was so desirable that they rubbed themselves with white body lotion, cream or white chalk, or, alternatively, tried to wipe off the brown color." Adopted black children in white homes may also have identity, self-esteem and discrimination issues that their new parents are not equipped to handle.

On the other hand, recruitment of black families as adoptive parents has not been very successful. "Black people are significantly poorer than white people and less likely to be in a position to come forward," says Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School. "Recruitment efforts bump up against that fact."

But since 32% of 510,000 children in foster care were black in 2006 (and only 15% of all U.S. children are black), how can we solve the problem of the disproportionate number of black kids in foster care? And should white parents who would like to adopt a black child be "trained" to care for one? Do we not trust the parents to get on-the-job training? (Angelina Jolie recently said, "A thing very important to us in the house is culture, is culture for our kids, even the color of the children in the cartoons. There's still not a Disney princess who's African, and it's very difficult because our daughter's getting into princesses right now . . . these are things we're very conscious of.") Is it hard for us to face the truth: That when it comes to adoption, love may not be enough? As Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Institute says: "The view that we can be colorblind is a wonderful, idealistic perspective, but we don't live there. If we want to do the best for the kids, we have to look at their realities."

Major Changes Urged In Transracial Adoption [AP, via MSNBC]

Study of '94 Adoption Law Finds Little Benefit To Blacks [Washington Post]

Related: Adoption Study Tackles Race [Chicago Tribune]

Jolie Takes Her Twins To The Movies [The Gazette]